Are you a fraud? Have you betrayed someone you vowed to love? Have you been the perpetrator of abuse? Yes? –Well then, take your clothes off, put on only a gunnysack with holes for your head and arms, go to the corner of Sierra Madre Boulevard and Baldwin and, while wearing a large sign hanging around your neck announcing the same, shout out for all to hear, “UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN!” Ah, let’s hear it for good old public shame. In some world cultures it is still expected and in recent years some of our own judges have resurrected it from the bench. “And besides three months of public service removing graffiti, you will wear a sign to school that says “I am a tagger, vandal, and a thief.”
I suppose that when the Book of Leviticus called for the priests of the temple to declare lepers “unclean” and have them announce the fact, there was a societal motive of protectionism involved. At the same time there was intended shame and disgrace attached because certainly the leper had committed some grave sin to warrant such an awful disease. But The Old Testament gave way to the New and Jesus become the fulfillment and the answer to the prayer of the responsorial psalm: “I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.” What joy the former leper must have felt when Jesus made him clean again, and no wonder he could not remain still about it.
Some monastic communities, especially those that maintain a contemplative and cloistered environment, still hold some modified form of what is known as a “chapter of faults.” This is the practice of willingly standing up in front of the other members of your community and telling your sins out loud. (How embarrassing!) The masters of the religious life have always known that maintaining community is greatly aided when the members of the community retain an ongoing attitude of humility.
Actually, at the beginning of Mass, our recalling and admitting that we have sinned is a form of public confession—“good for the soul” as they say. We should see this moment of reconciliation with God as essential to celebrating the rest of the Mass that leads to Holy Communion and Blessing. It is not accidental that the “Confiteor” begins: “I confess to Almighty God AND to you my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned.” But Jesus heals (even touches and embraces), lepers. At the heart of the consecration of the Holy Eucharist that we celebrate today, Jesus will declare once again, “This is my body given for you. This is my blood . . . poured out for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven.” And then he adds the formula for acknowledging our deepest and most profound gratitude for our own forgiveness and healing: “Do this in memory of me.”
Got lepers? Do we have any in our lives that we have labeled as outcast and/or undesirable? They might as well have leprosy as far as we are concerned. —What to do? —Jesus touched and healed lepers; he restored them to his Holy Communion.